We are seeing conflict move so quickly to chaos these days.
Anger, entitlement and self-preservation can kick into overdrive when you feel devalued. We forget about relationships and fight to be right, no matter the cost.
Civility is pushed aside more and more as we navigate our differences.
The wounds of relational trauma, betrayal, neglect, poverty, racism are playing out in so many spaces of public gatherings and personal relationships.
But now is not the time to throw our hands up and walk away from this messy state of affairs.
Yes, there is a lot happening that takes us out of our space of leading from confidence, clarity and calm. It is inevitable that our emotions will overwhelm us at some point.
But it is essential that we cultivate spaces together that encourage conflict that moves us towards solutions, not sensational soundbites.
We have to look at how we communicate and the language we use. We have to intentionally set expectations and guidelines for what is okay and what is not okay.
We have to lead with dignity, which means doing the deep inner work so we can show up and lead by facing our biases and recognizing the inherent worth of every person.
Today’s guest fosters civil dialogue and inspires communities to build strength, courage and purpose.
Rosalind Wiseman is the founder of Cultures of Dignity; an organization that shifts the way communities think about our physical and emotional wellbeing by working in close partnership with the experts of those communities–young people, educators, policymakers, and business and political leaders.
She is also an internationally recognized author of multiple books, including Queen Bees and Wannabes, the
groundbreaking best-seller and basis for the movie Mean Girls and its subsequent Broadway adaptation.
Listen to the full episode to hear:
Learn more about Rosalind Wiseman:
Learn more about Rebecca:
Scroll Down for The Full Episode Transcript:
Rosalind Wiseman: If we can be really mindful of that and then be knowledgeable about how to manage our emotions, and then be able to increase and strengthen our social skills, be able to see asking for help around these issues is not a weakness, it’s a capacity, it’s a strength, then we can really start to have much more authentic control over our lives.
[Inspirational Intro Music]
Rebecca Ching: We are seeing conflict move so quickly to chaos these days. Anger, entitlement, self-preservation can kick into overdrive when you feel devalued. We forget about relationships and fight to be right no matter the cost. Civility is pushed aside more and more as we navigate our differences. There are a lot of stories and pain behind the devolving public discourse we’re seeing today. My training and work remind me it is hard to show dignity if our own inherent worth and value have been denied.
The wounds of relational trauma, betrayal, neglect, poverty, racism, are all playing out in so many spaces of public gatherings and personal relationships. School board meetings devolve into screaming matches with physical threats. Peaceful protests that become tinderboxes of divisiveness and violence. Wearing a mask in a grocery store feels like putting a target on your back instead of an act of respect and care. Partner violence and gun violence are at record highs. It is all infuriating, it’s heartbreaking, it’s exhausting, but now is not the time to throw our hands up and walk away from this messy state of affairs. We need to stay engaged and stay well in the process of staying engaged.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with leaders whose burdens have inspired their life's work.
Our goal is to learn how they’ve addressed these burdens, how they rise from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.
When you lead from a principle of dignity, you value individual and collective human experiences, but not at the expense of the inherent worth of every other person. This means we need to truly listen to those with whom we disagree, like, really listen without preparing your next response or just tuning out. Discourse in a lot of spaces has devolved and become a full-contact sport. You see this at the grocery store, at our schools, at our places of work and worship. Now, I know it’s so easy to get hooked and disregular these days, I am feeling it too. There is a lot happening right now that takes us out of our space of leading from confidence, clarity, and calm.
We are all human, and when you care deeply, it is inevitable our emotions will overwhelm us at some point, but it’s also essential we cultivate spaces together that encourage conflict that moves us towards solutions, not sensational soundbytes. So this takes work by looking at how we communicate and the language we use, and it also takes intention by setting expectations and guidelines of what is okay and what is not okay. It also takes dignity which means doing the deep inner work so we can show up and lead by facing our biases and recognizing the inherent worth of every person, instead of seeing our rights above this human responsibility.
Now, today’s guest really got me thinking about the importance of the power of our own healing as a foundation of creating and sustaining cultures of dignity right now. From where we learn to where we work, Rosalind Wiseman fosters civil dialogue and inspires communities to build strength, courage, and purpose.
She is the founder of Cultures of Dignity, an organization that shifts the way communities think about our physical and emotional well-being by working in close partnership of the experts of those communities: young people, educators, policy-makers, and business and political leaders. She is the author of New York Times bestseller, one of which is Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World. This is a groundbreaking bestselling book that was the basis for the movie and the Broadway musical, Mean Girls. She’s been profiled in the New York Times, People, Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, USA Today, and is a frequent guest on national media like The Today Show, CNN, and NPR affiliates throughout the country.
Listen to how Rosalind unpacks the principles that guide her company, especially what she said around dignity and listening. It has made a lasting impact on me and my work for sure, and also, pay attention to where we talk about debating and what winning really looks like and does not look like. Lastly, notice Rosalind’s approach to empowering people with their rights and, also, the skills to manage the responsibilities of those rights. This is such a timely point. Now, please welcome Rosalind Wiseman to The Unburdened Leader podcast.
Rosalind Wiseman: I mean, this whole Critical Race Theory stuff is so predictable and frustrating.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Rosalind Wiseman: It’s so connected, and it reminds me so much of -- and for good reason -- it reminds me a lot of, for as long as I’ve been doing this work, you can't talk about sexual -- when I first started doing the work I do, I remember going into a public school administrator and her saying to me, “You can't use the word sexual harrassment when you're talking about sexual harassment in school.”
And so, I said -- I mean, I was, like 23, and I don't think I even meant it sarcastically -- I said, “So you're saying that kids can sexually harass each other, but they can't talk about it and about what the problem is,” and she said, “Yes, we can't do that.” That’s basically what’s happening with Critical Race Theory, right? It’s people who are saying you can't. If you talk about this, you're accusing people of doing all this stuff, right? Not that it’s even been taught in schools anyway, but it’s just this thing that’s the galvanization of people who don’t want to actually change the way things are in the systems of power.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Rosalind Wiseman: And so, if it’s sexual assault or sexual harrassment or it’s racism or it’s homophoboia, it’s like okay, now we’re gonna dismiss it by saying things are woke. I mean, I’m so used to these cycles, that anytime you really try and talk about things seriously, then there’s this enormous systemic pressure to silence it. That’s what I’m -- so yeah.
Rebecca Ching: That’s interesting.
Rosalind Wiseman: Then, if you don't talk about pronography and kids, you know, watching pornography or seeing pornogrpahy, I think the average age is, like, ten, and people won’t let us talk about it, right? My friend and colleague Peggy Ornstein --
Rebecca Ching: Oh, yeah! I know Peggy, yeah.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, I love Peggy, and her books Boys & Sex and Girls & Sex which I have right back there --
Rebecca Ching: Yep, me too. [Laughs]
Rosalind Wiseman: She wrote to me recently and she was like, “Can you freaking believe that there are teachers who want to teach this and parents are not letting them?” It’s just like what are you talking about! So I don't know the answer to your question.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, so much fear and scarcity, but yeah, what I’m hearing from you -- and then I’ll jump in and do the intro and we can go into the questions -- but what I’m hearing from you is that the issues are the same, it’s just the catalyst to bringing people to you might be CRT or Black Lives Matter or how to navigate sexual harrassment or microaggressions.
There’s all these things, but it’s still the fear and the uncertainty of how do we talk about these things and how do we help our kids?
Rosalind Wiseman: Well, we can talk about this, but I think there’s more permission to be able to -- there is definitely more permission for adults to have self-righteous temper tantrums.
Rebecca Ching: You’re listening to The Unburdened Leader, and y’all, I am really, really excited to introduce you to my guest today, Rosalind Wiseman, who I have been following for almost two decades. It is such a treat to have you here, Rosalind, thank you.
Rosalind Wiseman: Thanks, Rebecca, for having me! Thanks for, you know, wanting to hear what I’m saying for the last 20 years.
Rebecca Ching: Well, your information, what you put out in the world has been consistent and has been solid, and you have been faithful in your message, and, again, good stuff lasts the test of time, so really grateful to dig in today.
There’s a lot I want to talk to you about and a lot I know the listeners to this podcast will really benefit from. First, I just want to talk a little bit on a high level about your company, Cultures of Dignity. Now, you work with schools, parents, and leaders to transform how they view, support, and lead young people. I’d love for you to walk us through what a culture of dignity looks like. I’m laughing a little bit kind of in light of everything going on in our world at the time of recording this, but what does a culture of dignity look like today amidst a deeply polarized culture?
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, it’s hard to imagine that we can have one, right? That we can have a culture of dignity, and that can be, I think, for a lot of people, really overwhelming. It’s just put your head down and try and get through the day. So a culture of dignity really, for me, is based on principles, and principles guide thoughts and actions. That’s how I define principles.
That’s how principles are often defined as they guide thoughts and actions, and principles are a constant reminder of how you conduct yourself. So there’s a million different problems or iterations of conflicts that you can get into. We can never know exactly what specific problem we’re gonna have to handle, but if we have a principle -- and specifically a principle of dignity which is to recognize the inherent worth of every person -- that’s just a given. That’s your guard rails. If that’s what you remember to guide your thoughts and your actions in your everyday situations, then it helps you be able to show up and be flexible and be able to manage what happens as you go through the inevitable conflicts and the inevitable challenges and struggles that you have. Then, for me, this company that I have called Cultures of Dignity is that we start with dignity and the inherent worth of each person, but then we distill it so it’s more tangible.
I’ll give you a couple of things. We have a principle of listening connected to dignity, and the way we define listening is ‘being prepared to be changed by what you hear.’
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Rosalind Wiseman: Another one very connected to the question you’d asked me in this very deeply polarized culture we live in, is ‘listening like that is very important in contrast to listening so that the other person takes a breath and you can tell them exactly why they’re wrong,’ which is how our culture is operating now. Then, the other principle within that dignity principle is ‘be easy on people and hard on ideas.’
Rebecca Ching: Ooh. Ooh, ooh, ooh. Wait, wait. Can you just say that again?
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, ‘be easy on people and hard on ideas.’
Rebecca Ching: Gosh, ‘cause we sure conflate people and ideas, don’t we?
Rosalind Wiseman: Oh, we do!
Rebecca Ching: Boom!
Rosalind Wiseman: What we often do, frankly, is we are really hard on people, and because we’re so hard on people, it distracts us from actually being hard and rigorous on the ideas that we need to be able to deal with so that we can solve some of the problems that we have. But we’re so busy being so angry at people and assuming the worst about them and their intent and their competency and all of this, that it really stops our brains from individually and collectively being able to even begin to solve the very significant challenges that we have.
Rebecca Ching: Wow.
Rosalind Wiseman: So, for me, when you’re asking me that question, those two sub-principles -- you know, we have this big principle of dignity that everyone is inherently worthy, but then within that, we get more specific, and those two principles are really important to me to create a culture of dignity.
Rebecca Ching: You know, it’s interesting because I’m thinking about my first job out of college was working in The United States Senate in DC, and so, one of the cool things about being in that environment at such a young age was being in constant debate, discussion. I learned early on that I would either walk away feeling stronger about what I believed or questioning what I believed, and both are good. I would test my ideas, and it was so energizing to have these, sometimes, impassioned debates with people I cared about and respected. Sometimes I didn't know them well, but I had admired them from afar, and we came together and had these conversations. I always walked away with a win going okay, I’m hunkering down more on what I believe because of this conversation or ooh, I need to rethink this stat. That’s a gift too.
The humanity and the humanizing of someone, the dignity was still there when I was there, at least in the circles I was in. I know DC has struggled with that, and the culture of politics has struggled with dignity for a while.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, I’m from there.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, so you know.
Rosalind Wiseman: I’m a native Washingtonian, and I was a Senate page, actually, when I was in high school.
Rebecca Ching: Cool.
Rosalind Wiseman: I know what you're talking about.
The thing is that, you know, I work with a lot of high school people, and one of the things that I talk to them a lot about is that there’s a difference between the wonderful way in which you just described debate versus that we now -- and I think this also connects to people’s privilege and their socioeconomic status a lot -- is that you feel that when you're talking to somebody that the only way to be in a debate is to win by dominating the other person.
Rebecca Ching: Power over, yeah.
Rosalind Wiseman: And so, what I ‘ve said to young people a lot in those situations is when you walk away from a debate feeling that you have won, that you have dominated the other person, that is actually the indicator that you have lost.
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Rosalind Wiseman: Because, now, in this culture, when you walk away from that, the other person does not necessarily agree with you or isn't thinking the way that you're describing -- thinking about things in a different way. They're just walking away either reinforced with what they believe and also just feeling dominated, and that’s not a way for anyone to begin to think about something differently.
Rebecca Ching: Right.
Rosalind Wiseman: So I recast that for young people a lot because of the culture that we live in.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and there’s no relationship to circle back to versus these other conversations I still have -- gosh, I was there in mid-’90s, so, you know, I’m still in conversation with folks where we have a lot of different views on how we see change, but we have a relationship and we still check in with each other. That I see just diminishing so much.
I’m curious how you would describe how your approach is different than conventional wisdom, on leading youth these days and helping youth and those who care for youth.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, so one of the things that I believe is different, and it’s hard for me to understand why this is so different, is that I don't do anything for young people or about young people without asking them first.
Rebecca Ching: Yes. Ugh.
Rosalind Wiseman: I’ve said in my own circles of people who have a tremendous amount of expertise and knowledge on issues of education and young people and just trying to have a person think about things in a different way, I have defined young people as the subject matter experts of their lives.
Rebecca Ching: Yes!
Rosalind Wiseman: I’ve gotten pushback. I’ve gotten pushback from my colleagues about that.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, what’s the pushback. Tell me more about this. Oh, my gosh.
Rosalind Wiseman: Well, that young people are not necessarily the subject matter experts of their lives because they are young, and that people who have been doing the work on young people are the experts. I think that, for example, I’ve been doing my work, and the way I say it -- I was just talking to a group of eighth and ninth grade boys, and I said to them, “I have a lot of experience working with your aged people. I do, I have two decades of experience working with eighth and ninth grade boys, but I don't know what it’s like to be you, and I’ve never been an eighth and ninth grade boy, and I sure have never been an eighth or ninth grade boy or person growing up today.” So I have a lot of expertise. I’m not taking away the expertise that I have by acknowledging the expertise and wisdom that young people have. I think that’s, really, the only way that we’re gonna get young people to, basically, buy what we’re selling.
Unfortunately, the work that I do in social emotional learning, in the ‘90s it was, like, character development or anything around how to be as a person or the decisions that one makes in life, they, often, are laughed at by young people, and the reason that they're laughed at is because they’re unrealistic because we don't ask young people to create the context in which we’re gonna give them this information. So I can give them a lot of information, but it has to be in the context in which they’re living, and the only way that I can understand the context or frame it is if I ask them what that context is and take it seriously.
I think the conventional wisdom around things when we talk to young people about things like kindness campaigns or anti-bullying things or social media campaigns or anything to do with their lives, is we don't ask them what it’s like and we don't work with them as the people who have knowledge about this. As long as we continue to do that, we’re gonna have buttons and things on walls in schools that young people just won’t take seriously.
Rebecca Ching: There’s an investment when someone says, “Tell me about you.” It’s so interesting. Now, I know why I followed you for so long. We’re so aligned because whenever I sit and meet with someone, I say, “Listen, I may have all these nerdy certifications and know all these theories, and I see patterns of people I’ve worked with over the last couple decades, but I’m not an expert on you, and so, we’re gonna come together and work on these things. I don't know more about you than you do,” and I think that is interesting how, from a leadership perspective, if we’re continually diminishing the lived experience of a young person, they're gonna grow up and do that too.
Rosalind Wiseman: Sure, absolutely.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, but if they feel that they're valued and seen and heard, they're gonna model that too. I guess that leads to my next question -- and this is maybe a little leading here, but what is the connection between how we treat and lead young people and how we treat and lead adults? I’d love to have you unpack that a little bit further.
Rosalind Wiseman: Sure, sure, sure. So, you know, what’s also funny is that, because in my work with young people, it’s not like they are not immune to doing it themselves, right?
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Rosalind Wiseman: So you can have a senior who will talk really patronizingly to a freshman, to a ninth grader, right?
Rebecca Ching: For sure. For sure.
Rosalind Wiseman: Then, my job is to say, “Hey, let’s take a pause here for a moment.” So when you say, ‘When I was a freshman, I didn't dress like that’ -- you know, those kinds of things, we need to take a step back, laugh, and say, ‘wow.’
So, to your point, I am doing the things that I was taught how to do, and so, becoming an adult is really, often, I think, about being able to manage yourself and to be self-reflective and be able to know that if you take a pause, and that you are able to have a moment of understanding how you might be coming across to someone. Even if you aren't sure that you're able to say, “Hey, wait a minute. Am I coming across this way? I have a feeling that I’m doing something that might be counter-productive to what I’m trying to do, here,” and that you're able to listen to that and not get offended or not think your position of authority is being questioned, but that it makes it so that you are able to have a much better conversation and communication with that person. If you can do that, then you can -- you know, even if you’ve had that kind of role modeling, you can change that in the moment. That’s also another thing that I do with young people a lot. It’s funny that if you put them in a position of authority and leadership, just like what you're saying, they can start to model some of the things that are not helpful that they grew up with.
I think that, you know, just to drill down a little bit more into your question, I think there’s a lot of adults who feel powerless and, often, felt like they’re being treated like children by other adults who are in positions of authority, like, being told what to do, how to do it, feeling like you're gonna be punished if you don't do X. In work environments, reporting when things are going wrong, you don't know how to do that because it feels like you’re snitching or gonna get in trouble. Or if you're frustrated with your boss, you're worried about being able to say anything because you're gonna, somehow, get punished about that. Those are all things we’ve learned from in the past, and it’s not just about power dynamics, it’s about our lack of social skills, being able to manage our own emotions, and then being able to communicate that effectively with others.
And so, I think that if we can be really mindful of that and then be knowledgeable about how to manage our emotions, and then be able to increase and strengthen our social skills, be able to see asking for help around these issues is not a weakness (it’s a capacity, it’s a strength), then we can, really, start to have much more authentic control over our lives. And so, to loop back to your question, when we do that with young people, they move forward in conversations or engage in conversations that they really don't (for a very good reason) want nothing to do with like bullying or social media. Social media use, kids hate talking about that stuff, usually. When we talk about it and recalibrate it in the way I’ve talked about, they want to move very quickly towards having those conversations.
Rebecca Ching: How come? So we touched a little bit on this already, since I just found out that you grew up in the DC area, but you write and teach about the importance of navigating politics with dignity, and that’s something that’s dear to my heart. For me, I lived on Capitol Hill. As I noted, I worked on Capitol Hill. It’s such a big part of my life, so with January 6th still fresh in my mind and the minds of so many -- but, also, I’ve been watching some of the school board meetings -- even here in San Diego, last week, we had one that went national because it just devolved into screaming and dehumanizing and even threats of violence. I’ve got kids going to school. I’ve got my husband who works in a school system. I’m thinking hmm, I’m paying attention to this, and, like you said, that adults are less worried about how they express their anger and their power over. So what are the biggest barriers right now to cultivating cultures of dignity?
Rosalind Wiseman: Well, so it’s really easy to clickbait on those videos where we watch adults lose their minds and have temper tantrums at school board meetings and be horrified and have an emotional response to it. Be horrified --
Rebecca Ching: For sure. For sure.
Rosalind Wiseman: We are clickbaited into watching them.
Rebecca Ching: Fair. Fair.
Rosalind Wiseman: Right? That’s to hold our attention.
Rebecca Ching: You're right.
Rosalind Wiseman: And, of course, you see the ad right next to the video.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Rosalind Wiseman: I would ask people before you see that and before you see anything like that, to know that your emotions and your body are gonna be physiologically stimulated in a negative way when you see things like that.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Rosalind Wiseman: I’m thinking about this and I’m in debate about this myself.
Rebecca Ching: Gotcha.
Rosalind Wiseman: Because I work in school systems, and I am working with school board people and have been for a very long time, and it was a very difficult job before the last 18 months, and then I see people acting out. These people are so dysregulated.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Rosalind Wiseman: So there is no reason, no matter how important you think your agenda is, there is no reason except to be completely emotionally dysregulated to get up and threaten people and to be behaving in these ways. I am a parent, and I can unequivocally say that one of the more upsetting things and one of the most damaging things in our country is that parents, across the board, across political spectrums, across their opinions about things and who they vote for, that there’s always a small group of people who think that they are absolutely justified in behaving in atrocious ways to be able to say what they want, get what they want, do what they want. Parenting never gives you a pass to be a self-righteous nasty person. I don't care how important you think your issue is, and I don't care who you vote for. You could vote like me 100% of the time, which I’ve seen many parents where I’m like oh, yeah, those people vote just like I do and they are atrociously behaving to other people. So this is really agnostic in the way of who this goes to.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Rosalind Wiseman: I think we also tend to think, like, oh, that person who disagrees with me is behaving poorly.
Well, guess what, people who think like you do can behave just as poorly as you do -- as the other side, excuse me. I think we need to A, acknowledge that. B, we have to say parenting does not give you an excuse to act in a self-righteous, nasty way, and C, when our children see this -- and I really want us to be clear that children are seeing this, and that is very scary and anxiety-producing for them when they see people at school boards and these clickbait things and people are talking about it, it is terrifying and anxiety-producing for them to have to go to school, on top of everything else, knowing that the adults in their lives are so dysregulated and can’t be relied on to act like adults.
That is very unsettling for young people, and so, what I would like people who are listening to this -- is to be able to really beg you. It’s very scary to face how we all have learned how to deal with conflict in our lives. Very few of us have been raised and know how to handle conflict well or to be in the presence of somebody who is so angry, but for our community’s sake, survival, for our children’s emotional and psychological safety, their ability to go to school, we have to get better at being able to be in the presence of people who are having self-righteous temper tantrums and be able to say, “That is not the way we are gonna conduct ourselves.” And so, we just really, for the sake of our communities, from our smallest to our largest, we really have to be able to strengthen our abilities and face some of the things that, frankly, for many of us, are really, really scary.
Rebecca Ching: Whatever you're passionate about, how you communicate is the issue.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: I’m also listening to this going oh, my gosh, I’ve been really having a lot of information boundaries just in my own nervous system.
Rosalind Wiseman: So smart. So smart.
Rebecca Ching: But even hearing and watching these school board meetings, I realized why it hit me so hard because I grew up in a home that had a lot of that energy, and so, I’m like okay, why is this stuff hitting me a little differently.
I’m like oh, it’s hitting close to home for me. [Laughs] So here’s just a nuanced follow up question then. So for those that are regulated -- I’m in a lot of circles that are trauma informed and that do trauma work, I’ve been doing trauma work, clinically, for 20 years and, for the last 5 years, doing trauma-informed leadership work, I can have compassion for how people got there. To January 6th, to these school board meetings, I can sit there and go okay, I know the whats and the whys, and yet, I’m not seeing anyone say what you just said -- saying, “Hey, this isn't okay here. Your voice matters, but not this way.”
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So how can we lead dysregulated people? What do we, as leaders, need to do in those moments so that you don't have people escorted out of a school board meeting just ‘cause they're wearing a doctor’s jacket or they hold a certain title and they're voting in a different way.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: This is what I said to my husband about what’s going on in his school. I said, “Unequivocally, leadership has to say, from the top, this is okay and this is not okay, and we are working on enforcing this.” Leadership has to say this, so what would you want leaders to communicate when those kind of situations are happening?
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, well, and I also think that (just to also be clear) that people who are mostly regulated have dysregulated moments.
Rebecca Ching: Hello! Human! Human moments.
Rosalind Wiseman: Exactly, right. So I think if we can also, in some ways, the same is true, it gives us optimism towards people who are like oh, my gosh, they have lost their minds right now. Both are true, right? You have people who are regulated who have dysregulated moments and people who are dysregulated who can get to a better place.
Rebecca Ching: Yes. You got it. You got it.
Rosalind Wiseman: I think that’s an important level set. When we’re in moments of this kind of, as my mother would say, upset -- my mother uses the word ‘upset.’
Rebecca Ching: Does she do air quotes? “Upset?”
Rosalind Wiseman: “Upset.” In moments of upset -- the first thing to do, I always check in with myself. I always do that. , about, like, oh, here I am. This is an awful moment. Really don't wanna be here. Wish I could be anywhere else. I think it’s really important to acknowledge if you’re having these feelings of, “Oh, god, why did I come to this meeting?” or “Why did I decide to become a parent?” or “Why did I -- Why? Why? Why?”
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Why did I take this job? Meeting people right now. All that, yeah.
Rosalind Wiseman: Right, right, right. I don't want to do this. This is awful. Ugh, why do I have to talk to my friend who’s got this opinion that’s really different than me and is being really difficult and I don't know what to say? I think that’s the first step. The second step is -- and I really agree with you that leaders have to say -- and not in these soundbyte-y ways, they have to be very clear about, in the kind of tone, of, “Hey, you have the right to have the opinion you have and to be in this community, and to be able to speak what you wanna speak.”
Rebecca Ching: Yes, yes,
Rosalind Wiseman: But this is where we go back to principles. This is why principles are so cool because then you can say -- let me pause for a second. In schools, one of the things that we do a lot is we set norms and expectations for how we’re gonna treat each other, and one of the things I work on a lot in schools is that we co-create them with students, right? Students aren't being told how to behave. It’s how do we do this together?
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Rosalind Wiseman: How do we create a learning environment together? SOo it’s co-created.
Rebecca Ching: I love it. I love it.
Rosalind Wiseman: In school board meetings, for example, they usually do have rules about here’s the code of conduct now because adults can’t be counted on to maintain themselves with a sense of basic decorum, but the principles are -- so now I’m going back to -- so when we have dignity as the word of everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, with inherent worth, and that is our starting place, then what that means to me, what that means in the norms of this space is listening is being prepared to be changed by what we hear.
We are gonna be easy on people, hard on ideas. A conflict is inevitable, collaboration is essential. If we have these things, and then there is an agreement -- like, when you come into a board meeting -- this is what I would like people to think about -- we have gotten to such a low level of our behavior that I think we actually need to have a consent kind of thing happen where if you're gonna join this school board meeting, you have to look at these principles --
Rebecca Ching: Yes! I agree.
Rosalind Wiseman: -- you have to agree to them that you're gonna conduct yourself this way, and if you are so upset about what’s happening that you don't think you can conduct yourself in that manner, then please leave for a few minutes until you get yourself under control, and then you can come back and join the group, which is exactly what, frankly, we talk to middle school people about.
Rebecca Ching: Yes, exactly.
Rosalind Wiseman: But we have to now because adults can't manage themselves. So I think there needs to be a principle-based way in which we have meetings, but that people need to agree that if you're gonna be in this meeting, regardless of what you think, you have to agree to the how of how you're gonna conduct yourself, and you have to sign your name on it ‘cause your word’s your bond. That’s the way our grandparents taught us. And so, your word’s your bond, and if you can't, then someone needs to say to you, “You've agreed, as a part of this meeting, that you're gonna conduct yourself in the following way. That’s not happening, so why don't you excuse yourself for ten minutes, and then come back when you're ready.” That is where we are. I think that’s, basically, the way that we do it.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and I even think from a trauma-informed leadership perspective saying, “And if you can't come back then, man, submit your words in writing and we’ll have someone read it. We wanna hear your voice. In our household we say it’s never okay to hurt yourself or others with your words or your fists.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, sure.
Rebecca Ching: That’s a family rule, and our family meetings are now gonna have norms and expectations as we look at the new school year. I’m bringing that in.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: But I also love being hard on ideas, not on people, right? Your dignity, your humanity is never on the table.
Rosalind Wiseman: Right.
Rebecca Ching: We have to model that, and I think it starts with our kids, honestly. I really am thinking if we start to have these kinds of norms and expectations that are co-created and saying it’s ‘cause you matter. We want to hear you.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So I’m curious, before we move on from this, what is your biggest barrier for you as you do this work?
Rosalind Wiseman: There’s a lot. I was thinking about this, actually, and I get really frustrated. I’ve been doing this work for a long time, and watching adults -- I can intellectually explain to myself why I think adults are behaving so poorly.
Rebecca Ching: Sure.
Rosalind Wiseman: And yet, it is still incredibly upsetting to me, and it upsets me for them. It upsets me because I work with young people, and I am very intimate with the consequences of this adult behavior towards the impact of it on young people and the mental health issues and challenges that young people have. I’m very up close to all of that, and so, that’s really, really hard to see, and it’s really hard to see the lack of dignity that people are treating each other with. Again, I’ve been thinking about these issues for a long time, like my entire career is some version or another, and it’s really hard to see how respect and the word respect is continuously used as a way to actually really mean ‘obey me, comply with what I’m saying even if or especially when I am not treating people with dignity.’ People in positions of authority using that as a way to demand compliance and obedience.
And when you don't, when you say, “You are not treating me with dignity,” that person in that position of authority uses that as a way to go after you, uses that as a way to say you're being disobedient, that you're being defiant. that’s just really -- if we can pull apart those two words and use them for what they really mean -- dignity is the inherent worth of people, and respect is admiring, not only what someone has achieved, but how they have achieved it, then I think we can get to a much better place in our relationships and in the healthy emotional safety of our -- and health, more to the point -- of our communities.
And so, watching that and watching how respect has been used and watching how people have been manipulated is just deeply -- it’s very hard to keep doing this work. That doesn't mean I’m not gonna do it, it just means that it’s really, really hard. So I recognize that obstacle, and then I continuously give myself some compassion which has been an obstacle for me. Just keep going, keep going, keep going. Learning how to be self-compassionate has been a really important part of this, and to say wow, I’m not feeling really motivated right now and that’s okay.
Rebecca Ching: So compassion. Yeah, ‘cause there sounds like there’s a grief, a fatigue, and maybe even dancing with a little bit of burnout, maybe dancing with hopelessness. The little tinges of that, that show up when you are faced with the intensity of what we have particularly -- and not just the last 18 months, but the last four years and beyond.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Thanks for naming that.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, no, and then I go right back into it. Then I watch myself go right back into it, and then I sort of laugh at myself because right now I’m finishing up a book. I haven't written a book in four or five years. I’ve written a lot of curricula, I’ve written a lot of articles, but hadn’t written a book, and I have a book coming out in May, and I’m doing it with a dear friend and colleague of mine.
She’s Black and is a youth pastor and a Christian, and I am none of those things, and so, we’re doing this book together. It’s compelling me to have really uncomfortable conversations, not only with myself and with her but also with people that really disagree with me about things. Putting myself -- okay, practice what you preach. You can't tell people to do these things if you're not gonna do them yourself.
Rebecca Ching: Yes, we’re into that.
Rosalind Wiseman: I keep doing it. I keep doing it.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, that’s where capacity and resilience are built. You got it.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, yeah.
Rebecca Ching: You got it.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: But rest is big.
Rosalind Wiseman: But rest is big, yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Resting a little bit longer ‘cause you're on the front lines.
Rosalind Wiseman: It’s like why am I not motivated today? Why do I wanna do a lot of laundry?
Rebecca Ching: You're tired!
Rosalind Wiseman: Oh, right, ‘cause I’m tired!
Rebecca Ching: Oh, my gosh. I have, like, become obsessed with my garden, of late, because I’m like I can control this. I’ve got life. I’ve got 22 tomato plants right now in my backyard. [Laughs]
Rosalind Wiseman: Hey, congratulations!
Rebecca Ching: So I am learning so much, but it’s this thing because I’m like I gotta get out in the garden or laundry. I’ve become obsessed with my laundry lately. They've become my certainty anchors, Rosalind.
Rosalind Wiseman: Exactly, exactly, exactly.
Rebecca Ching: You mentioned a book, but I want to talk about the book that introduced me to you which is Queen Bees and Wannabes which is now in its third edition, and you're so close to celebrating its 20th anniversary from it’s original publishing date, so I want to say congratulations to you!
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah!
Rebecca Ching: I’m curious what personal experiences --
Rosalind Wiseman: [Laughs] That’s a long time. Gee, okay.
Rebecca Ching: Tell me about it. What personal experiences inspired you to write Queen Bees and Wannabes?
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, so my personal experience that inspired me was that I was teaching at the time, and I was teaching a lot of girls, and parents would ask me in all different kinds of ways, all different kinds of ways, they would ask me questions about their daughters. I was so young. When this was happening, I was in my mid-20s, late-20s, and then I thought I just need to write something so these parents get it.
Like, how come they don't get it? Which, of course, you know, that’s funny looking back on.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] The humors of the 20s.
Rosalind Wiseman: I’m just like wait, what is going on here? The inspiration was that I wanted to write something so that I could explain what I was seeing to parents which seemed really obvious to me. It’s not like I got everything, let’s be clear, but I was really in conversation with girls all the time, all different ages, all different kinds of girls, and so, I wanted to write a book that explained what I was seeing, and how I was seeing it, to parents. That really was the reason. I had experiences in sixth and seventh grade that I revisited when I was teaching and when I was writing, but it wasn't the impetus for the book. It was actually a way, as I was writing, to self-reflect on what my experiences had been and get some wisdom on what those experiences were and how they impacted me as I got older and became an adult, very similarly to what I was learning from the girls. That’s really what the basis was.
Rebecca Ching: Yes.
Rosalind Wiseman: I wanted to share what the world looked like to me.
Rebecca Ching: What were you seeing at the time that you wrote about in your book?
Rosalind Wiseman: Well, I’ve always very much been very focused on the fact that people have rights, but they have responsibilities. There are themes to my work that have not changed no matter how much, for example, social media changes. So balancing people’s rights and responsibilities has always been a really important one. Also, similarly, telling somebody they have a right to something does not mean that other people are gonna respect those rights. Giving somebody a right, you also have to give them the skills to be able to put those into practice for themselves, but then they have the responsibility to advocate for the rights of other people as what they are experiencing or what you hope that you would experience. So that was something I was seeing.
People, at the time, of a certain demographic, meaning white and middle class and upper-middle class, is that they were very focused on talking to girls about their rights. They weren't very much talking to them about what does that mean or how do you advocate for yourself. Girls of color and girls with less resources were not, really, for the most part -- even in many communities of influence were not even being talked about -- their voice was not at the table, so I was seeing that as well. That’s why, from the very beginning, with Queen Bees, I was bringing issues of race and class into what I was seeing in girl world and how girls were valuing each other based on race and class and ethnicity and all of those things.
I was seeing all of that, and I was seeing that -- I think one of my biggest insights was that girls’ relationships in their groups were very much making them not establish boundaries for themselves, and that they would take that lack of boundaries, that it was more important to maintain the friendship than to be able to have a good friendship that was a healthy friendship. It was more important to maintain it than how you were treated within that friendship. That was carrying over as the girls got older into more complex relationships that they were getting into.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, for sure.
Rosalind Wiseman: I think that was one of my most important insights. At a pretty young age I had that insight into oh, these patterns are starting -- the things happening at 10, 11, or 12 are really impacting the way that girls are having their relationships later in life.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah. Noting that this book was written 20 years ago, right, what core content has stayed the same with the principles in Queen Bees and Wannabes, and what has evolved? You mentioned rights and responsibilities. Any other core things that have stayed the same? What are some of the things that you've added to this?
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, so the things that have stayed the same are -- I was just reminded of this yesterday. I was asking a group of mostly seventh grade girls what did I need to know to work in their school on Monday and what were they worried about? With everything going on, god bless these seventh grade girls are like, “fitting in,” “getting along with my friends,” “choosing or losing friendships.” We’ve talked a lot about choosing or losing friendships. They were not thinking about masks; they were thinking about how do I maintain my friendship.
Rebecca Ching: Got it.
Rosalind Wiseman: There’s the popular group. How do I stay friends with them? So those kinds of things tend to be evergreen. Or having a betrayal in a friendship, being jealous of a friend, feeling insecure, falling in love, who you are. All those things are evergreen. Getting into fights about independence with your parents. Those are identity. Those are evergreen. What’s different is how, and also the feeling of -- I mean, obviously, when Queen Bees first came out, there was something called privacy in the world. There is no privacy now or it’s very difficult, and young people will go to great lengths to try and figure out how to create privacy. So they can, it’s just that it’s really, really hard, obviously. The way in which they understand their public persona versus their private persona is totally different than when I first started teaching. What does it mean to be famous? Totally different, and the desire for that, what does that look like? How you define close friendships is, in some ways, different because young people can and do have close friendships with people that they don't ever see in real life.
So those things are different. It’s the how, I think, that’s really changed, and that is why you have to listen to young people about what the context is in which they're living.
As a parent, Queen Bees is still helpful because it teaches you about how to communicate with your child and how to listen to them and not to ask them a million questions at the end of the day because it’s exhausting to them.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Rosalind Wiseman: That will always be an evergreen issue. Always, always, always, always. I could just keep writing Queen Bees and just keep updating it for our culture, but I felt like at a certain point I needed to put it to bed and do other things like the book I’m writing right now. You know, I’m doing the book on boys and stuff like that. I did that.
Rebecca Ching: What’s the title of that book again for the book on boys?
Rosalind Wiseman: The boys book?
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Rosalind Wiseman: That’s called Masterminds and Wingmen.
Rebecca Ching: Great. I’m wondering, too, if maybe some of the things that came out of Queen Bees is also probably why you’re wanting to move forward, and I want to get into that because this book inspired the movie and the musical Mean Girls, which is now part of the cultural zeitgeist of the time. I mean, it is a legend-status movie in many ways. You came back on my radar last spring when I heard you kind of talk about some deep disappointments and betrayals around the adaptation of Mean Girls into a movie and musical. You wrote on your blog, I just want to read this quote that just hit my heart. You wrote:
“For me, Mean Girls has never been my greatest achievement. I am much more proud of the work I do advocating for young people and helping to bring dignity into communities. In reality, my Mean Girls experience was one based on exploitation.”
Phew, let’s let that breath for that moment. [Laughs]
Rosalind Wiseman: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: I’d love for you to share in what ways was your experience with the adaptation and production process not reflective of dignity?
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, well, so the system of having a book be bought by a movie company and then that turned into a movie is, in essence and at its base, one of exploitation.
Because the movie companies, any movie company, will -- you know, you take a risk when you are an author that -- because the movie company has all of the power and they have all of the experience, and you as an author, for the most part, don't. And so, when you enter into that agreement, regardless of who it is, the relationship is one of exploitation. I think that, to a certain extent, I understood that, but you also have to go through the experience to really understand that.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah.
Rosalind Wiseman: The easiest way (for people who don't have a lot of experience with this) that I can explain it to you is it’s very common when you're an author to have in your contract for a movie company -- it says that you will get 3% of net proceeds from the movie, and you think well, okay, I’ll take that risk. If the movie makes one hundred million dollars and it costs fifty million dollars to make then, somehow, I should get some money from that. But that’s never how it works ever. Nobody ever, ever makes money like that in the film industry, because they always figure out a way, on the books, to make it look like the movie never makes money.
So in Mean Girls, it cost seventeen million to make, and then you double -- this is what movie companies do all the time -- whatever the movie budget is, you just double what that is, basically, for marketing and advertising. So it’s seventeen million for making the movie, it’s seventeen million for doing all the marketing. Well, Mean Girls has made, conservatively, one hundred and fifty million dollars, but it still, on paper, has not made money. That’s just how they do it. You’ll just never make money.
Rebecca Ching: Wow.
Rosalind Wiseman: Right, so on its face, that is the case. It’s just the nature of the beast, and I understood it, but I just really felt -- you look at it and you're like well, if it makes a hundred million dollars and it costs seventeen million to make, surely I will make some money from that. Somehow it will make money, but that’s just not the way it goes.
What was really hard and what became very hard with the musical is that Tina Fey’s really good at -- and has been really complimentary about my work and how it was the source material for it and the things that I do and all of that.
I believe that, at a certain point, when you're in a position of leadership in an industry, and you talk about issues of women, inequity, that you advocate -- that you don't just do that publicly and talk about it, but that you actually do it in real life.
Rebecca Ching: Action.
Rosalind Wiseman: And that was not my experience. The second part that was really difficult and really painful was that when the musical came out, I was worried about the cast -- there were a couple of things -- but I was worried that the cast -- ‘cause I know the power of Mean Girls, and people love it so much, and they go to it with these experiences -- sometimes with being bullied or children in the queer community have had expreinces and somehow -- Mean Girls has meant a lot for a lot of people. They’ve had bad experiences, and for some reason, they’ve connected with Mean Girls. I knew that the Original Broadway Cast would have a lot of young people coming to them telling them stories about their experiences, and I knew that that would be a tremendous amount of pressure on these young people who are actors and are amazingly talented but don't know how to handle that.
And so, I worked with the cast and consulted with them about how to deal with that problem and went through a training with them. I went through the script and I went through all different kinds of things giving advice about how to make it so that we could thread the needle between it being a great musical and sort of the education of what was going on or the ethics of what we were putting on stage. I did this because I also had an agreement that we would do an educational component when the musical came out and that we would work with communities and that we would do -- there would be all these families coming to the musical, and so, we would have an opportunity to talk about anti-bullying stuff.
President Trump, at the time, was just ramping up the ugliness on immigrants and racism and all of this. It was just getting uglier and uglier, and so, this was an opportunity for people all over the country from all different political stripes to come and get the sense of dignity and sense of being able to be a family moment of why are we were as a community.
So we were gonna do that, and I worked hard with my company, Cultures of Dignity, to do that with the people that were running the musical, and nothing ever came of it. I’m looking back on it now, it was -- by the time the musical opened, I realized that I was just being used, and I was being used because they wanted me quiet. And so, the closer and closer we got to the opening day of the musical, everything just evaporated and disappeared, and there was really never any intention to do anything educational.
Rebecca Ching: Wow, that’s a big betrayal.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, it was annoying. [Laughs] It was really annoying. It infuriated me, right?
Rebecca Ching: There we go. Yeah.
Rosalind Wiseman: It just absolutely -- not to be facetious about it, but it was infuriating to me that our country had a leader who was very effective at tearing us apart, thinking the worst of each other. Then we had an opportunity, which doesn't come around very often, where people from all over who believe all different kinds of things are gonna come together and come to this musical and feel good about it. Mothers and daughters and fathers and people would come together, and we just missed this incredible opportunity where there was somebody who was very effective -- a national leader who is doing his best to tear us apart.
Rebecca Ching: Hmm, and there was an opportunity to offer a much-needed salve and respite. You mentioned Tina Fey. Tina Fey was in the movie Mean Girls.
Rosalind Wiseman: She wrote the screenplay.
Rebecca Ching: She wrote the screenplay, okay, and then also was involved in the musical.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, she was instrumental. It wouldn't have happened without her.
Rebecca Ching: Without her. She was on SNL and 30 Rock, and so, she’s someone that is in the business quite a bit and someone who has a platform of things that you and I both care a lot about. So I’m wondering how could this process have improved if Hollywood and Broadway really had a culture of dignity?
Rosalind Wiseman: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Nice. I know, naive question, but I want to ask it anyways. [Laughs]
Rosalind Wiseman: No, it’s fine. It’s good to ask. Questions are good, right? I have a number of --
Rebecca Ching: Hopeful question.
Rosalind Wiseman: Right, hopeful question. I have some really close friends who are in that industry.
Rebecca Ching: Me too.
Rosalind Wiseman: And I still work in -- I was talking to them about this all throughout, and there’s a feeling in Hollywood that there is nothing you can do.
Rebecca Ching: Yep.
Rosalind Wiseman: Or, for example, with things on racism which now Hollywood is very, very focused on -- except now people are terrified to say anything and ask any question for fear of getting in trouble.
So Hollywood, in my experience, is one of super intense power dynamics where you are terrified to say something to somebody that you know has more power than you do. Again, regardless of politics, the dignity is often not there in ways that we would really like it to be. It just goes from what should I do? I just need to know what should I do? It’s really hard having uncomfortable conversations. That’s what I do for a living is have uncomfortable conversations. I would love to do work in that field, to bring more courageous discomfort (which is actually the name of my next book) into that field because it has so much power, obviously, to shape culture.
If people in that industry could feel more comfortable treating each other with dignity and not be so scared to say what they really feel, that would be a pretty powerful, wonderful thing.
Rebecca Ching: It’d be a seismic shift.
Rosalind Wiseman: It would be.
Rebecca Ching: I’m curious, then -- you stayed quiet about this for a while. What was important for you to say I’m not gonna hold this close to the vest. I’m gonna speak about this. How you chose to speak about it, too, was really beautiful.
Rosalind Wiseman: Well, yeah, thanks. I didn't talk about it for a long time because I didn't want people to say, “Oh, this is a Mean Girls thing, and Tina Fey is a mean girl,” right? I just didn't want -- that is literally not treating her with dignity. I can be angry about what happened. I can be incredibly disappointed. I can disrespect the way in which that happened and everything that happened to me. I don't respect when people don't treat people with dignity, whether it’s to me or other people, but I didn't want it to be superficialized. Women’s anger and women’s conflicts are so easily minimized and superficialized that I didn't want to do it. I wasn't willing to do it, and so that I was on the receiving end of being treated poorly was unfortunate, but it wasn't, in a way, unfortunate enough for me to want to go public with it. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that it's scary. You go up against somebody, you say something about somebody who has a lot more power than you do and has an amazing image, and that is terrifying. Then, I just got to a point where -- I think the musical just made me so angry and it made me so upset to be used and manipulated the way I was, and also, not just me, but that the opportunity -- there was no loss there. I just couldn't understand why you wouldn't want to make the world a better place if you could.
I think that because of that I just wasn't gonna not talk about it, and when I didn't seek it out when I was asked by the person who interviewed me at NPR, and she had this assumption that she started off with when she asked me if I would do the interview with her. It was called The Art of Power. She said, “I have this vision of you --,” I think she said it in the podcast, “--riding on a horse in the countryside with your millions and millions of dollars from Mean Girls,” and I just laughed and said, “Well, that is not at all what happened.” I just decided because I felt that she would tell my story fairly, she would let me talk about it in ways that would not devolve into mean girls or mean women, and I thought I could trust that.
Rebecca Ching: That’s powerful. So, for you, you kept silent about it partly because you didn't want your betrayal and how you were devalued to be fodder and play into cultural tropes and cliches that are so common, yet there was a tipping point. And so, when you found someone who would tell your story in a way that honored your principles, your values, it just was a no-brainer it sounds like.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, absolutely, and she did. I think Aarti, the person who did the article, I think she did a great job.
Rebecca Ching: The interview. We’ll make sure to link it.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah, thanks.
Rebecca Ching: It was a really good interview.
Rosalind Wiseman: Thanks.
Rebecca Ching: So thanks for sharing that, ‘cause I feel like, a lot of times, people stay silent whether they’re afraid of going up against leadership or they're in a position of leadership and don't want to stir up the masses, and especially these days where people -- and I say this a lot on this show -- where people critique for blood sport.
Rosalind Wiseman: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So thank you for speaking to that a little bit more. I just want to wrap up too. I’m someone that is definitely grounded in hope, and I often call it a scrappy hope these days. I wonder a lot, though, about finding our ways towards a culture of dignity. Can we do it? I’d love for you to share what actions leaders can take today that foster cultures of dignity in their own circles of influence.
Rosalind Wiseman: Well, number one is I think that you don't have discussions on social media with people about things that are difficult. I think you get on the phone and you talk to them.
Rebecca Ching: Boom. Done.
Rosalind Wiseman: I think that’s the first one. I think second is that if you have leadership capacity and skills, you have to put them where they're most needed. We’ve talked a lot about school boards, and I think -- we would change the political culture of this country --
Rebecca Ching: At the school board level, yes.
Rosalind Wiseman: -- if we had leaders who were capable of regulating themselves and other people who are participating and making sure that we have a principle-based practice of having some school board council meetings. So if you did that, if you contributed in some way to that, I think that would really change things. Make no mistake, because I know this from my own work, that what’s happening at the school board level, I really do believe that people can disagree with me politically and have the right to be on a school board. I really do believe that.
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely.
Rosalind Wiseman: But what we’re talking about is the way in which we conduct ourselves, and what I’m seeing is people who are very angry, who are going to be and are seeking out positions on school boards, and school boards are the training ground for political positions. So if we want more screaming and yelling and people cowering or people just following somebody blindly ‘cause their emotions are whipped up, then don't do anything about this. If you have leadership capacity, then you really need to be going to the grassroots levels of where political discourse or lack of discourse is happening and contribute so that we have civil discourse and a principle-based practice of talking to each other.
Rebecca Ching: Ground zero, especially with school boards dealing with kids and communities, it is important.
Honestly, Tip O’Neill, former speaker of the House, “All politics are local.” So that’s a great place -- and, again, if we’re not running, we can go support people, we can get involved, we can stay aware, and we can also take care of ourselves and do the work we can to stay as regulated as we can in those vulnerable places and those places of immense discomfort too. That is hard work, and it seems like it’s getting harder and harder these days, even for those of us who do it all the time.
Thank you, Rosalind. This is such a treat, and I know we only scratched on the surface of all of your knowledge, but thank you so much for your time today. It’s been an honor to talk with you and get to know you.
Rosalind Wiseman: My pleasure! Thank you for having me.
Rebecca Ching: When you choose to lead with dignity, you are choosing to respect the inherent worth of all people, even if you disagree with them or they make you angry. This means doing the work to care for yourself and stay grounded in the presence of conflict no matter how volatile. Now, staying grounded is not staying silent or taking it. What I love about Rosalind’s principle of dignity is that it is not remiss of boundaries or accountability; it is built into it. Tolerating bad behavior is never okay in a culture of dignity.
Now, it may feel easier to rage and fire off a rant on social media or cut off anyone who disagrees, but the costs are too great to keep off-loading pain this way. Taking some inspiration from Rosalind’s powerful guiding principles, think about the following. What support do you need so you can be hard on ideas but easier on people? How can you intentionally approach listening as a readiness to be changed by what you hear? What biases and beliefs do you need to address so you can show up and lead from a posture that honors the inherent value and dignity of all people?
To stay engaged in healthy forms of conflict, it is essential we dig in and commit to the life-long practice of healing, growing, and learning so we can keep showing up and speaking up without dehumanizing.
Now, this means doing the work to increase your capacity for vulnerability which never ever feels good, but it’s always the bridge to the deeper connection and belonging we’re all striving for. It also means healing our own wounds, so when conflict arises, we can maintain dignity for ourselves and others in the face of attacks and hostility. Leading with dignity is the antidote to the dominating and power-over behavior we’re seeing in so many spaces right now. Lastly, this means befriending discomfort as the norm in all we do.
Leading is hard. Leading is also controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, your boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm. Now, I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions, but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and action.
Finding a coach who gets the nuances of your business and leading in our complex, polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing at safe and small. Now, leading today is not a fancy title or fluffy bragging rights, it is brave and bold work to stay the course when the future is so unknown and the doubts and pains from the past keep showing up to shake things up. Internal emotional practices and systemic strategies are needed to keep the protector of cynicism at bay and foster a hope that is actionable and aligned.
When the stakes are high and you don't want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict between your ears and with those you lead, when time is of the essence and you want to make hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader coaching is for you and where you deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation,and doing things differently than the status quo.
To start your Unburdened Leader coaching process with me go to www.rebeccaching.com and book a free connection call. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can find this episode, show notes, and sign up for the weekly Unburdened Leader email, along with ways to work with me at www.rebeccaching.com.